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ATM: Bears Need More at the Tight End Position

| February 19th, 2019

It was a simple play. But the fact that the Eagles were able to pull it off was telling.

Rookie tight end Dallas Goedert easily beat PFF-favorite Adrian Amos for one of the only touchdowns in the game, a home playoff loss for the upstart Bears to the reigning champions. The play proved to be significant in the low-scoring game, but even more significantly it illuminated what the Bears are trying to do as compared to what the Eagles have already accomplished.

The beauty of what Doug Pederson and company have built in Philadelphia is they have a passing game capable of hurting teams any which way they choose. Matt Nagy’s Bears just aren’t there yet and a lack of firepower at the tight end position is a big reason why.

TE has always been an important part of the offense the Bears are running. That’s why the Eagles spent a second round pick on Goedert despite already having Zach Ertz. They knew once Trey Burton went to the Bears, they’d be in trouble without Ertz. Ironically the Bears didn’t have Burton against the Eagles and it killed their game plan.

It’s been widely reported — and confirmed by Burton himself — the Bears planned on the Eagles using a defensive back to defend their top tight end. Without Burton, the Bears didn’t have anybody else who could beat a linebacker, much less a DB. Nagy had the same issue two years ago with Kansas City when Travis Kelce was injured.

The Bears don’t need Ertz or Kelce, but they need a tight end who can get up the field and make a play like Goedert did and Adam Shaheen did not in that playoff game. Hyping Shaheen as another version of Rob Gronkowski or Kelce was always dumb because he just isn’t the same caliber of athlete they are and that’s why Nagy made sure the Bears grabbed Burton, even if it meant making an unproven player one of the five highest-paid at his position.

Burton is far from a star, but he also can’t be covered by linebackers. He knows the offense and can get down the field. Shaheen isn’t a bad player, but he can’t do what Burton can do. They need a tight end who can run to make this offense work. Shaheen just isn’t fast enough.

The good news for the Bears is that every year the college ranks send a handful of big guys who can run and catch into the NFL. The Bears have to be able to identify one who can also learn how to run routes and get to be at least adequate as a blocker. There are certainly some intriguing options in the 2019 draft. Jace Sternberger should be ready to catch passes from Day One, coming off of a junior year with Texas A&M in which he caught 48 passes for 832 yards.

What that means for Shaheen is unknown at this point. He was a negative player for the Bears in terms of net yards over average in 2019, according to NFL Gaming and Information System. Somewhat surprisingly, he was a positive when the Bears passed the ball, but so was Michael Burton — likely meaning the positive pass plays came largely when opponents weren’t expecting it.

Shaheen was a second round pick, but only has 17 catches through two years. His lack of production as a rookie was largely blamed on the coaching staff, but he’s now on his second staff in two years and has yet to show anything beyond a big frame. He got off to a slow start because of a preseason foot injury, but he played more than 45% of the snaps in each of the team’s last four games and totaled just six catches and 56 yards.

Still, his massive frame and reliable hands have value. Perhaps the Bears could use him like Pederson used Brent Celek in 2017, playing roughly 40% of the snaps? If they were to draft another tight end, that player could play Burton’s role in Philly.

The Bears need to continue to add firepower and having another big guy who can get down the field will just make them that much more dangerous.

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